The Lord’s Handmaidens

By C. F. Derstine

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted from a 1949 issue of the Christian Monitor. While the language and terminology (such as the use of “Old Maid”!) is different in some cases from what we would use today, the underlying message is just as relative now as it was then. Men, I hope you can also overlook the fact that this is addressed to women and apply it to your lives as well. The message is pertinent for both genders!

“On my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:18

There is a class of women, that is the unmarried women, who often renders the cause of Christ a large service. This class is too frequently labeled with the stigma of “old maid”. There is something like an “old maid,” those who have much time on their hands, do very little, mostly mind other people’s business. Whatever stigma comes their way is well deserved.

Perhaps, there are some who are old maids by choice— God’s choice. These should take heart! God often has a great work for them to do. What pastor, whose arms have been sustained over and over by some noble unmarried maidens, who have both the heart, and mind, and the time to assist in the work of the church, has not been cheered by them? The writer is greatly assisted by one such.

The Bible text at the beginning of this aritcle takes us back to the day of Pentecost. Peter declares: This is not intoxication; it is inspiration. What they saw and heard was nothing else than the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. One well remarks here that even the illumination of the Spirit can never render the written word superfluous. The apostle, when filled with the Spirit, seeks a firm foundation in the word of prophecy (II Pet. 1:19). The last days referred to here include the whole period of the Spirit’s working—the entire Christian dispensation now far advanced. In this new dispensation, the prophecy notes as one point of advance that there shall be perfect equality in spiritual privileges. Not only shall the Spirit be poured out, far more largely and abundantly imparted, but in this outpouring of the Spirit all classes should equally partake, without distinction of sex, of age, of condition, or of race. There shall be no longer a Court of Women, or of the Gentiles, or even of priests, but all the partition walls shall be broken down; the very holy of holies shall be opened forevermore to Jew and Greek, to bond and free, to male and female, since henceforth, indwelt by the same Spirit, all are one in Christ Jesus. All this opens a wide door of opportunity to women in general, as well as those who are unmarried.

The Moody Monthly presents an inspiring article, from a pastor’s secretary, Miss Doris Louise Seger of Jackson, Michigan: “Dear Lord, if I have to be an old maid, please keep me from being an old maid!” This prayerful paradox was uttered recently by a healthy, attractive, young woman. In her heart was the shadowy fear, the haunting anxiety, that she might be an old maid. To see the years slipping by, from effervescent girlhood, hopefilled womanhood, to culminate in what Webster describes as a “precise, crotchety, unmarried woman,” is horrible to anticipate, and something no woman wants.

But is it so bad, after all, for a woman to go unmarried? Does living without a mate warrant the sneers and jeers, the laugh-producing caricatures, the multitudinous jokes at her expense? Does the fact that, either by choice or otherwise, a woman is pursuing a solitary existence imply that she is an oddity?

On the contrary, many of the most charming women live alone. In fact, some of the world’s most famous women were spinsters. No one could intimate that Joan of Arc was old-maidish, or that Florence Nightingale had spinsterish tendencies. Distinguished Clara Barton went husbandless. Even Queen Elizabeth, renowned ruler, found no one with whom to share her throne.

God Uses Maids

To top this fact is another of greater importance. God uses old maids! God discloses innumerable privileges and opportunities of attainment, with the promise of a full, exuberant life, redounding with blessing, to those who will look to Him.

One word which particularly describes the position of a single woman is freedom. Especially to the Christian woman is this true, for it means she is free to serve the Lord, free to spend her time, her talents, her money, without earthly hindrance or obligation. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he said to the Corinthian women, “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (I Cor. 7:34).

We can say, then, that some women are old maids by choice—God’s choice. He sometimes withholds the joys of earthly fellowship, the pleasures of intimate home relationships, the blessings of motherhood, to give the supreme joy of a life given over entirely to Him. The love which might have been lavished on one’s own family is scattered and multiplied, the mother instincts are spread out to cover homeless waifs and children for whom no one else cares.

I am sure this is why Mary Slessor, famous pioneer missionary, free from earthly ties, could become “Ma” Slessor to half the continent of Africa. And why Irene Webster-Smith, for many years a missionary in Japan, could “mother” the orphan girls who would otherwise have been sold as geisha girls, saving them from a sordid life. And why Annie Johnson Flint, with an almost uncanny understanding of the human heart, could devote her entire life to bring blessing to others through the medium of poetry. She found in Christ the satisfaction of her heart, and expressed it this way:

But I look up—unto the face of Jesus, For there my heart can rest, my fears are stayed. And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness, And perfect peace, and every hope fulfilled.

God’s Choice Workers

Recently it was my privilege to read a letter written from the heart of Africa by one of God’s choice workers. With almost superhuman strength Martha brings physical and spiritual aid to the queue of two hundred or more natives that forms early each morning at her dispensary door. She operates, amputates, soothes, and mothers her huge family, doing the work of two doctors. Yet her letter bubbled over with humor, with the joy of living for her Lord. In the absence of a strong masculine arm, Martha leans all the more on the “everlasting arms” and is doing immeasurable good.

I shall never forget a service in which Helen Western, return missionary from China, was guest speaker. This tiny miss, endowed with a saucy sense of humor, started for the front of the packed auditorium. On reaching the platform she stubbed her toe and fell flat on her face. Rising with much dignity, and suppressing a slight giggle, Helen said, “I am so sorry. I just washed my feet and I can’t do a thing with them!”

Then began an hour of enchantment while we listened to her tell of God’s power in a life given completely to Him, living alone, but endowed with courage and charm that are priceless.

But we need not go to the far corners to find work for the Lord. Africa is not the only place for old maids to work. China does not present the sole possibilities for real service. Just around the corner—right in the next block—lies a fruitful field, fraught with opportunities.

One young woman, forced through the death of her mother to keep house for the family wanted to do tangible service for her Master. One day Alice sat at the window and watched the streams of children trooping past her home on their way from school, and she felt an urge in her heart to do something for them. As a result she now conducts a successful child evangelism class, with an attendance upward of twenty-five weekly. Many have found the Lord as personal Saviour, and the seed is being tucked away in fertile hearts.

Open Doors for Maids

In a neighboring city another “spinster” conducted a similar class. Becoming fascinated with her jubilant little family, she could scarcely wait for the day for Bible Club. While in prayer one evening the Lord laid upon her heart the need of countless other children in her city, unreached by the Gospel. Launching out by faith, she resigned her secular position, and is now the happy teacher of seven evangelism classes weekly, devoting her whole life to this vital ministry. “The Lord has abundantly supplied my financial needs,” she joyfully announced.

Pastors are always happy to supply names of shut-ins and neglected families for visitation. A real ministry may be discovered in this field.

I have yet to see the pastor who will not welcome a well-trained, sincere teacher for a Sunday school class. To become spiritual overseer to a group of growing, thinking lassies is a high honor. Unencumbered by housework, the single woman is free to spend time with her class, to take them on hikes, to really learn to know them.

Musical talents should be developed, capable teachers sought out, for the ministry of music brings rich reward, and is one much needed in the church.

In those long evenings when the pinch of loneliness is felt, letters to those in need of spiritual help, prayerful epistles freighted with love and sympathy, become real links in the chin of achievements for the Lord.

One young woman, yearning for little ones of her own to cherish, placed herself at the feet of Jesus and asked Him to comfort her. Instead, He placed her over the primary department of her own church. She became spiritual overseer to a hundred “borrowed lambs,” pouring out upon them all the love she might have given two or three of her own. They have proved more than adequate to fill the hunger of her heart.

Not only are single women free to give their time to the Lord, but their money also may play a large part in proclaiming the Gospel. Earned by themselves, with no dependents, many unmarried women have consecrated their purses to the Lord.

Single by God’s Choice

Mary is a Christian school teacher, and in recent months has discovered the joy of giving over control of her pocketbook to the Lord. She sends as much as one hundred dollars at a time to the foreign field. Her money is her own, to use as she pleases.

A local Sunday-school class of approximately twenty young business women, many of whom are unmarried, this past year sent sixteen hundred dollars to foreign missions, a feat impossible to accomplish had they had home obligations.

Down through the years, since the time the psalmist cried, “The Lord gives the Word: great the host of women who proclaim the good news” (John Nelson Darby), to the present day, a host of unmarried women have had a tremendous part to play in carrying the Gospel. One mission alone has 225 unmarried women on its African field, with fourteen stations “manned” entirely by “old maids”.

Spread across the world today are thousands of “unclaimed blessings,” charming, affectionate, intelligent women, flinging themselves wholeheartedly into the work of Christ, women with leadership ability, with stamina and courage, and above all, with singleness of purpose.

If you are one who is in this particular category, take heart. You may be an old maid by God’s choice. Perhaps He has something more wonderful ahead for you than you have ever dreamed!

Reprinted from the March 1949 issue of Christian Monitor by permission of Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, Pa 15683.

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